Noted Dallas trial lawyer Thomas M. Melsheimer, managing principal for the Dallas office of Fish & Richardson P.C., examines the increasingly complex legal issues created by jurors’ use and abuse of Google, Facebook, Twitter and other Internet sites in an opinion column appearing in the June 21, 2009 edition of the Houston Chronicle.
In “Web-Savvy Jurors Create New Problem For Courts,” Mr. Melsheimer and co-author Judge Craig Smith of Dallas’ 192nd Civil District Court, encourage judges and attorneys to recognize the influence of the Internet and provide more specific, upfront instructions to potential jurors in order to avoid problems.
“Simply reminding each juror, ‘don’t discuss the case,’ just won’t get the job done anymore, if it ever did,” they write. “These instructions can’t wait until a jury is sworn in but should begin when potential jurors first enter the system and receive their briefing in the central jury rooms. Otherwise, the judicial system will find itself meting out justice, not via the common sense of citizens, but via tweets, text messages and blog postings.”
In the article, Mr. Melsheimer and Judge Smith cite a number of examples of sitting jurors conducting Internet research for information on cases the jurors were hearing, posting Twitter updates during court proceedings, and seeking opinions on evidence from online readers. In virtually every case, the jurors involved viewed the information exchange as acceptable, and, in some instances, judges even allowed the trials to proceed.
Mr. Melsheimer, who D Magazine described as one of the city’s top “courtroom fighters,” repeatedly has been named in the publication’s annual round-up of “The Best Lawyers in Dallas.” In 2008, he was named one of the best defense attorneys in North Texas by the Dallas Business Journal, and one of the nation’s Top 500 lawyers in the LawDragon legal guide.
Mr. Melsheimer’s trial practice includes complex civil and criminal litigation in state and federal courts, emphasizing intellectual property, antitrust, and False Claims Act litigation. He served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas from 1990 to 1993, and was honored by the Justice Department as one of the nation’s top prosecutors.